By all accounts, Fantastic Four is a hot mess.
It's gotten dismal reviews across the board, scoring a dreadfully low 9 percent approval score on Rotten Tomatoes, which aggregates reviews. That's lower approval than Mortdecai (12 percent), lower than Pixels (18 percent), lower than Aloha (19 percent), and way lower than Jupiter Ascending (25 percent). A common complaint among reviewers is that the movie has too slow of a pace and ends with a third act that feels like a completely different movie.
On its first day in theaters, the movie made just $11.3 million, which put it on track for a disappointing $27-million opening weekend. Analysts had expected it to bring in at least $45 million in its first three days.
The stories of on-set conflicts between director Josh Trank and 20th Century Fox have been well documented, and re-shoots appear to have harmed the film instead of improving it. Fantastic Four almost seems as if it had been set up to fail.
So what really happened? There are conflicting reports, but it sounds like there's plenty of blame to go around.
Persistent reports from the set indicated that Trank was difficult to work with, exhibiting a prickly, combative personality that culminated with him intentionally damaging the house he rented during filming — or, depending on the rumor, the Louisiana studio where the movie was made. But a new report from Collider claims there's another side to the story.
An interviewee on Collider Movie Talk stated that it wasn't Trank's behavior that ruined the movie.
"The movie that Josh Trank and Fox agreed on making included three really big action set pieces... A movie is like a puzzle. You have all the pieces in place, [but] you start messing with pieces and suddenly the whole puzzle can look out of whack... Days before production began, Fox came in and made him pull [all] three main action sequences out of the film."
If true, that would effectively mean that Fox sabotaged the movie, likely over budgetary concerns. Budget cuts are very common in Hollywood, but to forcibly excise a movie's three major setpieces from a production that's only days from going before cameras? That's almost unheard of. Not to mention thoroughly unprofessional.
Collider's source went on to say that the film's ending – which, remember, was one of the critics' biggest complaints – was nothing like the one Trank had planned. Sometime during editing, "[Fox] hijacked the editing bay from him" — essentially seizing full control of the film and giving Trank the boot.
This seems to have been confirmed by Trank himself, who just two days ago – as the negative buzz was building to a furious crescendo – dropped a tweet with a not-so-veiled accusation that Fox ruined his movie. Almost as soon as it was posted, Trank deleted the tweet — but not before screenshots were grabbed, and all the drama surrounding Fantastic Four's production came roaring back to the spotlight.
And Josh Trank deleted his tweet. Good news, I still have it. The oral history lives: pic.twitter.com/AnZQ6ilM9r
— Mike Ryan (@mikeryan) August 7, 2015
Fox's side of the story is very different, of course. Its publicists have gone so far as to suggest that the positive PR spin put on all of the reshoots and rumors of Trank's on-set antics were not only to protect Fox, but to protect Trank as well.
Who's telling the truth? Only those involved know — and they all have differing perspectives. But two big questions remain.
First: What would Trank's version of the movie have looked like? How would it have ended? How much of a difference would those three action sequences have made? Prediciton: Someday, the original script will find its way online and we'll find out.
Second: Why is it so freaking hard for Hollywood to make a good Fantastic Four movie? This is the third time that the FF's origin has gone before movie cameras, and it hasn't resulted in a halfway decent film yet. You can't blame the comic; its characters are among Marvel's most beloved of all time. So why can't Hollywood get it right? Maybe a family unit of egghead scientists with superpowers is just too idiosyncratic an idea to work on film.
One thing is certain: Marvel's executives are doing a happy dance as we speak. After two previous failures and this new debacle, Fox may finally wave the white flag on its Fantastic Four option. That would revert the rights back to Marvel. And if anybody has a proven record of getting Marvel characters right on film – no matter how hard the premise may be to convey to mainstream audiences – it's Marvel Studios.